The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
Evolving into a lively artists’ colony from its roots as a fairly gritty and industrial port, Eureka (pop. 28,606) was well known to fur trappers and traders long before it became a booming lumber and whaling port in the 1850s. Thanks to the lumber trade, Victorian Eureka grew prosperous, building elaborate homes, including the oft-photographed but closed to the public Carson Mansion along the waterfront at 2nd and M Streets, two blocks west of US-101.
One unique thing to see in Eureka is the Romano Gabriel Sculpture Garden (315 2nd St.), displayed in a plate-glass showcase. This brilliantly colorful folk-art extravaganza of faces and flowers originally stood in the front yard of local gardener Romano Gabriel, who made them out of discarded packing crates and other recycled materials over a period of some 30 years before his death in 1977.
Along with dozens of well-preserved Victorian houses, Eureka has done a fine job of finding new uses for its many ornate commercial buildings, most of which have been preserved to house art galleries, cafés, and restaurants in what’s now called Old Town, a half dozen blocks between the waterfront and US-101. This historic downtown quarter has a huge number of good places to eat and drink, including Ramone’s Bakery & Cafe (209 E St., 707/445-2923) and the pub-like Cafe Waterfront (102 F St., 707/443-9190), serving excellent fish-and-chips, chowders, and other fresh seafood right on the harbor. And if that’s not enough to sate your appetite, for yet more fish-and-chips and a pint or two of ale, head along to the Lost Coast Brewery (617 4th St., 707/445-4480).
Accommodation options range from roadside motels to upscale places like the Carter House Inns (301 L St., 707/444-8062, $189 and up), a re-created Victorian manor with spacious rooms and a big breakfast in the morning. For a more authentic Victorian experience, stay at one of California’s most delightful B&Bs, Abigail’s Elegant Victorian Mansion (1406 C St., 707/444-3144, $225 and up). A real treasure in a land of nice B&Bs, this magnificently restored 1888 Eastlake-style home has been opulently decorated with real antiques and Bradbury & Bradbury wallpapers by the hospitable Belgian-born innkeeper, Lily Vieyra and her husband Doug.
For further information, about Eureka or anywhere in the whole glorious Redwood Empire region, contact the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau (1034 2nd St., 707/443-5097 or 800/346-3482).